Scary Nature

Snake Island Brazil: Taste Of Poison Paradise

In one of the famous scenes in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, the well-known archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones arrives at the “Well of Souls”. He encounters dozens of snakes, and responds with disappointment: “Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?”. Although Indy eventually manages to survive the encounter with the menacing reptiles, likely, he would not be happy to reach the next site: Snake Island Brazil, or In its original name Ilha da Queimada Grande (Ilha da Queimada Grande, “Island of the Great Fire”), which is considered one of the most frightening places you’d be happy not to visit.

Snakes… Snakes Everywhere (Or: Brazil Snake Island facts)

Snake Island is located on the eastern side of Brazil, about 33 kilometers off the coast of Sao Paulo in Brazil. At first glance, this green island looks pastoral and offers tropical weather. Much of it is covered in rainforest, and other areas offer rocky soil or bare grass due to massive deforestation. The island’s Portuguese name suggests just that. The Portuguese term “Qiuemada” means “forest fire”, and it expresses the fact that when the locals tried to clear the area for planting bananas around the city, they burned the rainforests.

But we did not come here to talk about forests or man’s damage to nature. The main question is does snake island have snakes? and how many? Well, a lot! They got there following a rise in the water level about 11,000 years ago, which caused them to move from the sea to the land. Since they can’t swim, they are effectively stranded on the island. There is a local story that blames pirates, who buried their treasures on the island and brought poisonous snakes to protect the treasure, but this is probably nothing more than a myth.

Whatever the origin of the snakes, the picture today is clear. Snakes Island Brazil facts are quite disturbing: every square meter of  Brazil’s snake island – which has an area of ​​about 430 dunams – you will find between one and five snakes. We’re not great math experts, but we think that means there are a lot of snakes out there. Once it was even thought that there were hundreds of thousands of them – The estimates spoke of no less than 430,000. Today the estimates are much more modest, probably around 4,000-2,000 snakes, most of them concentrated in the rainforest area of ​​the island. This significant decrease in the number of snakes on the island can be their competition for the same resources in a limited area, as well as a natural phenomenon of pairing between those with a certain family kinship (inbreeding).

The residents of Snake Island of Brazil are not only menacing to observe, but also the most venomous imaginable: deadly viper snakes called Gumtzen insularis, also known as “Golden Lancehead”, which live exclusively on this island. These snakes, characterized by light golden-colored scales and golden-brown bands, stand out with their yellow eyes. They reach a length of up to about 120 cm, or an average of about 70 cm, and feed from birds, lizards, snakes, and more.

Their favorite method of attack is an ambush in the branches of trees. On an island with an astronomical number of snakes, the chances of this happening are very high.

The venom of golden spearhead snakes is considered to be about five times stronger than that of “normal” terrestrial snakes and it works very quickly, as part of their evolutionary development and the desire to survive in minimal conditions: the goal is to attack very quickly whoever they encounter, usually birds, and not give them a chance to survive or run away.

There is no cure for their venom, and it may melt the victim’s flesh in the bitten area, cause kidney failure, and damage muscle tissue or the brain. From the moment of the bite, the person may die in just one hour. The chance of death in the event of a beating is estimated to be about 7%, or up to about 3% even if you receive medical treatment. When there is only one hour to receive adequate medical treatment, on an island far from any medical center, you understand the meaning.

A Golden Spearhead Gomtzen on Snake Island Brazil
The residents of Brazil Snake Island. Photo: Miguelrangeljr (Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)


The Treat of Snake Island Brazil

The snakes found here are not only menacing to look at, but also the most venomous imaginable: deadly viper snakes called Gumtzen insularis, also known as “Golden Lancehead“, which live exclusively on this island. These snakes, characterized by light golden-colored scales and golden-brown bands, stand out with their yellow eyes. They reach a length of up to about 120 cm, or an average of about 70 cm, and eat birds, lizards, other snakes, and more.

Other snakes also live in the rainforest of Snake Island Brazil, especially the Dispas Albifrons species, but they are not considered venomous and feed mainly on snails and other small insects. You won’t find many animals here. Even birds have realized that they should land elsewhere.


The Good News: Visiting Snake Island Brazil Is Forbidden

Considering the deadly animals that have made Snake Island in Brazil their home, we find it hard to believe that a sane person would want to visit such a place. There was a minimal settlement here in the past, perhaps of a few people, as can be deduced from the fact that there is a single lighthouse here. You can find one Snake Island Lighthouse story at least: According to local legend, at least one of the family members died due to the bite of a snake that entered his home, in the early 20th century. The lighthouse is still maintained and used, mainly by Brazilian Navy personnel. Another myth is about a fisherman who got lost in his search for bananas and unfortunately reached the island. He did spot some bananas but encountered hordes of snakes. He tried to run back to his boat, but was attacked again and again and did not survive.

Since then, many snakes have passed through here, and you may be happy to hear that it isn’t possible to visit Brazil’s snake island nowadays (needless to say, there are also no Snake Island Brazil tours). The Brazilian Navy patrols the sea and makes sure there are no trespassers, and the unlucky soldiers are responsible for maintaining the lighthouse.

The local army is the only party authorized to provide entry permits to the island, and these permits will be given in exceptional cases – mainly to researchers, in cases of visiting snake island for science. Everyone who gets permission to come to Brazil Snake island must be accompanied by a doctor. Beyond the danger of reaching the island, the authorities in Brazil treat this snake species as endangered, and it is not difficult to understand why. The desire is to protect humans and animals as much as possible, with minimal human intervention and interference with nature.

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The question we need to ask is how well these laws work, and if vising Snake Island Brazil doesn’t happen under the radar. Here it seems we can be relatively calm. Unlike sites such as the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, where dozens of bodies are found every year of people who come there to commit suicide, there are likely no such sights throughout Brazil’s Snake Island. There are stories of fishermen or adventurers coming close to the island from time to time, and also of traders coming here to capture the rare animals and sell them on the black market (such a snake might be valued at around $10,000-30,000), but fortunately there are no tales of heroism (or disaster) about such meetings. Maybe it will happen in one of the next innovations in the Indiana Jones series.

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